By Olga Shafran
I never understood why people ask preschoolers what they want to be when they grow up, but in the Soviet Union this was a mandatory question every child had to periodically answer. Some kids wanted to be cosmonauts, some wanted to be firefighters. I wanted to be a teacher. I decided this when I was four years old and never changed my mind.
Being a teacher is maybe a noble profession, but not glamorous, and certainly not heroic. I guess I was never very ambitious, and I was always fairly risk-averse. The kids who wanted to race into burning buildings, or explore the depths of space, or be police officers, at least at some point in their lives must have envisioned themselves as heroes. I just wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to work with children because I love their energy and their sense of wonder, and because people fascinate me, and forming connections with them is a very meaningful and humbling experience.
None of this has changed for me after fifteen years of teaching in a public school. I love what I do. I love my students. I aspire to be the best teacher I can be. I work incredibly hard. And I have absolutely no desire to be a hero.
I have the utmost respect for the people who protect others and who risk their lives to do so. They have chosen difficult jobs, and I am so grateful for their sacrifice. I cannot imagine doing what they do.
And yet in this crazy time in our country, more and more people are starting to expect teachers to be heroes. People want to give us guns and train us how to use them to potentially shoot a student in order to protect other students. I grew up going target shooting with my dad and I loved aiming, firing the rifle or gun, the smell and feel of it, but I was shooting at a piece of paper. I never in a million years could imagine that I would need to aim a gun at a living being. That is so far from the job I signed up for, it’s actually absurd.
People are calling schools “soft targets” and saying that we need to “harden” them. They’re soft for a reason! They’re SCHOOLS. They’re supposed to be a loving, nurturing place, where children and adults feel safe, happy, and possibly even excited to learn. What message would we send to the students if we turn our schools into high security prisons with metal detectors and armed guards everywhere?
Safety comes second only to physiological needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, well before learning can take place, but our students do not feel safe right now and neither do the teachers. The politics of the gun debate have gone on for far too long, and arming teachers, or arming schools is not the right solution. I do not want to be a hero. I just want to be a teacher.